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President of UDC feels heat for travel spending
‘Sitting here’ not the job, he says
UDC President Allen Sessoms is in the proverbial hot seat.
Mr. Sessoms has not shied from addressing any of those hot-button issues, but he also wants the public and the UDC community to be aware of the scope of the challenges and the changes taking place at the school.
“The University of the District of Columbia has never had a great history,” Mr. Sessoms said in an in-depth interview. “We’re trying to transform the image in the education, corporate and philanthropic worlds and become much more international, all of which could bring significant dollars to the District.”
Mr. Sessoms, who was appointed president in 2008, said he can’t promote UDC, raise money or cultivate partnerships by merely sitting behind a desk on campus.
Mr. Sessoms also said UDC is hurt by some policies, including the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, which since 1991 has been giving residents up to $10,000 to attend colleges in states and up to $2,500 to attend private universities in the city.
“The program is a disincentive for students who want to go to UDC,” said Mr. Sessoms. “The District’s high school graduates get zero dollars to attend UDC but the program pays instead for them to attend Michigan, Virginia or Maryland or other states, and the money is not needs-based. Even residents who attend private universities in the District receive tuition assistance. They’re going to Trinity, American, George Washington, Princeton.”
The competition posed by those tuition grants and more prestigious degrees is heightened by the city’s consistently high unemployment, illiteracy and dropout rates, and failure to meet the demands of the 21st-century global labor market.
“In the short term, the fact that we established a community college in six months with no money reflects progress. We found about $10 million in reserve funds for the two campuses to expand educational opportunities,” Mr. Sessoms said. “We began by getting residents the skills they need, and lots of them have a third-grade reading, so we’re educating them and training them at the same time.
“In the 21st century, businesses locally, nationally and globally want workers trained, educated and certified on environmental issues, in health care and hospitality, in engineering and in the trades. They want practitioners. We have to catch up and keep pace.”
He, the UDC board of trustees and the faculty are also realigning academic programs to meet those demands based on the release Friday of a preliminary report that proposes discontinuing some programs, restructuring others and spending more on flagship programs.
He also said he travels to maintain the UDC study-abroad program in the former industrial city of Sunderland, England, whose strategic studies include innovations in renewable energy, technology and work force development.
“I can’t do that sitting here,” said Mr. Sessoms. “I can’t raise money, recruit students and faculty, rub elbows with university presidents, Nobel Prize winners and gain influence and assets sitting here.”
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About the Author
Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...
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